In the last couple of decades, it would appear Canadians have been successfully making their mark, even paving the way in some instances, within the horror and exploitation genres. Just as they once did for comedy long, long ago, our neighbors in the Great White North keep the genre alive and kicking with buckets of creativity and a healthy amount of originality. Their hockey-obsessed, maple-syrup loving culture, by which I mean their passive-aggressive love for violence and their preoccupation with the thick, gooey red stuff, is infesting the terrifying and the shocking with surprisingly good results. They're cranking out better, more imaginative material than the PG-13 garbage crowding theaters today.
In 'American Mary,' twin-sisters Jen and Sylvia Soska direct a wicked, twisted tale about a young woman's disillusionment with her career path as a surgeon and with the educational system in general. In a desperate need for money, she discovers the underground world of criminal activity and body modification. Though the two societies are not in any way related, they do share a common interest: complete and absolute secrecy for certain medical procedures that would otherwise be frowned upon by even the most liberal of people. This is a very niche community that takes the concept of doctor-patient confidentiality to a warped level, one where the slightest mistake or misunderstanding could come back to haunt you.
And sadly, for poor, struggling medical student Mary Mason, this is precisely what happens, which is not in any way revealing the unexpected conclusion to Mary's new career choice. Katharine Isabelle plays the titular character with the same kind of energy and talent as seen in another memorable Canadian horror flick, 'Ginger Snaps.' There's something cold-hearted and strong-minded in her demeanor, which actually starts out pretty small and eventually grows as her extremely private practice gains some worth-of-mouth reputation. But Isabelle's Mary also seems vulnerable, a bit delicate and awfully lonely. That final emotional tidbit becomes more apparent as well, particularly in her friendship with strip club owner Billy Barker (Antonio Cupo).
From a script by The Soska Sisters — the pair also make a brief cameo as darkly eccentric twins with a highly unusual request — the movie breaks the monotony and seriousness with some twisted and very subtle tongue-in-cheek humor. The scene inside the woman's restroom at the club is both nerve-wracking and creepily comical. There's also something perversely rib-tickling about the well-deserved justice inflicted upon the despicable Dr. Grant (David Lovgren), a fairly long sequence that's as shocking and gross as it is weirdly merited and fitting within the story. This has much to do with the character revealing and welcoming her darker inhibitions, turning an already gloomy plot even gloomier.
Missing a small beat here and there, 'American Mary' does slow down in the middle, creating a bit of a sluggish feel, as if the filmmakers were unsure of where to take the story next. The detective (John Emmet Tracy) doesn't serve any real purpose, and Mary's feelings of loneliness don't create any meaningful impact. Thankfully, it's nothing too major to ruin the flow and pace, as the Soska Sisters recover by quickly wrapping things up and bringing it to close. In the end, 'Mary' offers a wickedly good time with various shocks and laughs, demonstrating once again that the exploitation horror genre is finding a new home in the red-syrupy paradise of Canada.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
XLrator Media brings 'American Mary' to Blu-ray under the "Screamfest" line. The Region Free, BD25 disc is housed inside a blue, eco-cutout keepcase. A couple skippable trailers are at startup and then switches to a menu screen with full-motion clips and music.
'Mary' slices and dices on Blu-ray with a fine and capable AVC-encode video, showing excellent definition and clarity throughout. Presented in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio, fine object details in the background are distinct with lifelike textures in hair, clothing and the various surgical instruments. Flesh tones appear natural and often revealing during close-ups. The freshly-minted digital transfer taken from the Red Epic camera does show some negligible banding, but it's fairly easy to miss and doesn't ruin from the movie's enjoyment. Although feeling a bit toned down for a majority of the runtime, contrast and brightness are very well-balanced with true, accurate blacks and admirable visible within the shadows. Colors are bold and cleanly-rendered, particularly the greens and reds. Overall, it's a great debut for a twisted low-budget horror flick.
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn't make as much of an impression as the video, but still strong and generally satisfying. The design is more of a front-heavy presentation with nicely balanced separation between the three main channels although movement and off-screen effects don't exactly create a convincing image. Music picks up much of the slack, opening the soundstage better and creating a broader environment, while dialogue remains well-prioritized and intelligible in the center of the screen. Dynamic range is never pushed very far, feeling a tad flat and uniform, but at least it's clean and stable. Low bass is more surprising and robust, providing some depth and weight to the lossless mix. Despite the noticeable lack of rear activity, the high-rez track does an admirable job and is sure to please.
From the Soska Sisters, 'American Mary' demonstrates once again that there's something wrong with the drinking water in Canada because they keep coming up with the most bizarre and twisted ideas for movies. Our hockey-loving, syrup-chugging neighbors in the Great White North first infested our comedy. Now, they're here for our exploitation horror, and 'Mary' is another morbidly comedic tale that entertains. The Blu-ray arrives with an excellent picture quality and strong audio, but bonus material leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, genre fans will want to hunt this one down and enjoy the company of the disturbed Mary Mason.